Inspiration From The Missouri Honor Medal Banquet

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Missouri Honor Medal Ceremony and Banquet as a journalism ambassador for the Missouri School of Journalism. It was just as inspiring as I had remembered the first time to be.

The Missouri Honor Medal Banquet is held to honor some of the most outstanding journalists in the world. Since 1930, the Missouri School of Journalism has held this ceremony. Medalists are chosen on the "basis of lifetime or superior achievement, for distinguished service performed in such lines of journalistic endeavor."

The first time I attended the honor banquet was my freshman year here at Mizzou. I had eagerly jumped at the chance of writing an article on it for the school's newspaper The Maneater. I remember the overwhelming feeling of amazement rushing over me. I couldn't believe I was in the presence of some of the most successful journalists in the world. It was an honor that would stick with me throughout my years here at Mizzou.

The first article I wrote almost four years ago was a preview for the ceremony and class the honorees would teach. Click here to read "J-School Honors 10."

The second article covered the ceremony itself and touched upon a few stories on how the honorees had gotten into journalism. Click here to read "J School Honors Accomplished Professionals With Awards."

Last night I was able to meet all the medalists and chat with them for a few minutes after the ceremony and dinner. I can truly say the stories of the those at the Zeta newspaper in the Northwest region of Mexico and Ignacio Gomez from The Foundation For the Freedom of the Press in Colombia made me appreciate the ability we have in America to freely tell our stories without fearing for our lives. It touched me to hear their stories and their courage to push for freedom of the press in their countries. I don't believe too many people can say they have the courage to do this.

Here are a few photos from the ceremony:

From left to right, top row: MU Dean Mills, Co-Chairman Larry Postaer of Rubin Postaer & Associates, Founder and Director James Balog of Extreme Ice Survey and Earth Vision Trust, Ignacio Gomez, CNN founding financial editor and economic commentator Myron Kandel, journalist from Zeta Newspaper and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton.

From left to right, bottom row: Adela Navarro from Zeta Newspaper, former The Oregonian editor and now Harvard University Knight Shorenstein Fellow Sandy Rowe, Hearst Magazine Chairman and now (as of November) NYC School Chancellor Cathleen Black, and Wine Columnist and Author Dorothy J. Gaiter.

Here I am with Larry Postaer, Cathleen Black and Myron Kandel.

Family, Friends Remember Elizabeth Olten One Year Later

These aren't the easiest of stories to cover, but with a little bit of effort and empathy I was able to talk with two of Elizabeth's friends and a family friend on how they have been able to deal with this tragedy throughout the past year. For all the stories of her killer and the stories of her search, she deserved a story on the person she was. Before watching this story, please read my previous post on the story:

November 9, 2009: Elizabeth Olten Update

Creating A Culture Of Fear Through The Stories We Tell

Remember I promised to post about the culture of fear... well here you go! Feel free to share your comments with me!

According to the book, “The Culture of Fear” by Barry Glassner three out of four Americans say they feel more afraid today than they did twenty years ago. Glassner writes of how journalists perpetuate a culture of fear through their work and stories, by over-exaggerating dangers that are not truly imminent dangers to the general public. But is this really true and is there a way, we as journalists, can try and limit creating these fears?

In a newscast of NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams I observed, I rarely found any story that would perpetuate unjustifiable fears in viewers. Below I describe the newscast and its contents; a newscast I feel all stations should try and emulate to help prevent creating cultures of fear.

The newscast began with a story about the state of American politics. Although mostly non-fear driven, there were a few phrases I feel, and I believe Glassner would feel, could create a culture of fear among the public. The writers labeled the nation, “America the angry” and stated, “On Thursday night, what should have been a staged political debate turned into a fight night in Vegas. Audience members broke into a physical scuffle, trading punches…” These statements could make it seem the entire nation is an uproar about politics, and people are getting into fights everywhere just because of it. But this is clearly, by my observances, not true. Glassner writes, “Fear mongers have knocked the optimism out of us by stuffing us full of negative presumptions about our fellow citizens and social institutions.” This is exactly what happened in that story. I feel if I ever face a story like this one I would carefully choose the words I decide to use. I would not sensationalize to the point that will cause the public unneeded fears. I would also stay away from labeling, such as “America the angry,” and shining negative thoughts upon things that aren’t truly negative. However, I do not feel journalists should tone down the truth of the story just for the sake of not trying to create a culture of fear.

In the next story about the American hiker released from an Iranian prison, the reporter talks about how Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with her and how compassionate he was towards her. They could have spent more time with the two people held hostage and created a fear about perpetuating a stereotype that Iran is filled with a bunch of terrorists, but they didn’t.

In another story, however, about how Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook, is awarding a $100 million grant to the Newark, New Jersey school district, a soundbite grabbed my attention. Zuckerburg created a deal with the mayor, saying the city must raise $100 million in matching funds and raise $50 million for disadvantaged kids. After this is said, Derrell Bradford from the Excellent Education for Everyone is quoted as saying, “If they fail, every foundation, every mayor, every governor is going to look at this as proof of why this will never work and it may never happen again.” A soundbite like this, from a so-called expert, could perpetuate a fear if this truly does fail we may never see a grant like this again. Glassner even writes, “Fear mongers make their scares all the more credible by backing up would-be experts’ assertions with testimonials from people the audience will find sympathetic.” The reporter should look for a soundbite from Bradford providing information about how the grant will work and let the public judge for themselves whether it can work or not. The reporter should also allow the public to make a decision, if they believe the grant won’t work, if it will destroy all future grants like this one.

There are many ways to combat these types of fear cultivating stories. Suggestions I would make: take watch in what you write, include the facts and solid numbers and don’t over sensationalize a story. Be careful whom you decide to interview and what soundbites you decide to use. While looking for stories to cover, make sure you do not overlook stories you feel are too overdone.

As Glassner writes, “I point out dangerous trends that have been around for a while and are thus viewed as old news and unappealing to the media. Motor vehicle injuries, for example, are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for children ages one to fifteen…. If a parent is concerned about his or her children, their money is best spent on car seats, smoke detectors, swimming lessons, and bike helmets as opposed to GPS locators and child identification kits. They would hardly know that, however, from watching their local TV news or listening to the hype from advocacy groups.” I urge you, as journalists, to get out and cover these stories; make the public aware of the dangers they should taken precaution of.

In regards to what I have written, I do not agree with everything Glassner talked about in his book. Glassner writes, “Statements of alarm by newscasters and glorification of wannabe experts are two telltale tricks of the fear monger’s trade. In the preceding chapters I pointed out others as well: the use of poignant anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, the christening of isolated incidents as trends, depictions of entire categories of people as innately dangers. If journalists would curtail such practices, there would be fewer anxious and misinformed Americans.”

Isolated incidents, such as school shootings and airplane crashes, are news. They need to be covered. The public needs to know and wants to know about these situations. So although it may seem as if journalists are constantly covering these stories and creating a fear surrounding the problem, journalists just need to remind the public with accurately portrayed facts and figures these are not trends. When creating a culture of fear, what it really comes down to is not the news we cover, but how we cover it.


There's More To The Story Than Just What You See On TV

Mistakes happen all the time on air and I'll be the first to admit... I love going to youtube just to get out a laugh out of on air bloopers. I'm sure anyone in the business does it. Yeah, we feel bad and know what it feels like to be in their shoes, but if it happened to us we know that person would be laughing at us.

Just today I saw a video that came out years ago. It took place at Ball State University's television station. The title above the video read "Sports Anchor Doing Poorly" so I didn't know exactly what to expect... and boy I don't think I was ready for what I was about to get!

"Sports anchor reading poorly? How bad could it be?" I asked myself. I guess you can judge for yourself:

Just a little bit curious on how this might have happened, I decided to look it up. I came upon a "behind the scenes" article on what really happened that day... from the minute the teleprompter "stopped working", to the scripts being out of order, and how even though his "boom goes the dynamite" quote made him famous, it didn't score him any dates.

Next time you see a blooper on air, I urge you to think about what might have happened behind the scenes. Most of the time it's not the anchor's fault, although it is what they get paid to do and because they're the face on the screen people attribute the mistake entirely to them. I think the end of the column pretty much sums it up. For all you that think anchoring is easy... it's not.

Your thoughts?

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Perfect Stranger In L.A.

For those of you who know me... well you know I love in-depth featury human interest stories.

About three years ago, when I first started here at Mizzou, I started my own project and website called "Eyes Into Columbia." The website featured people around Columbia and their life stories. Since then the project was swept under the rug, the stories long since forgotten. As many of you have experienced, college leaves very little time for a lot of side projects.... and "Eyes Into Columbia" just wasn't one I could keep up with.

Tonight I came across a blog I wanted to share with you. Perfect Stranger in L.A. features stories about people around L.A. I like the simple format of each blog post as well as the delineative and eloquent writing. If you have time I definitely suggest checking it out.

Props and congrats to the writer who was able to carry out a dream... that someday I hope I can carry out too.

Blowing A Small Story Out Of Proportion

During my reporting shift this past week I came across a problem all journalists come across from time to time. How can we tell a story without blowing it out of proportion?

This past week I covered a story about a local landfill that is facing fines after breaking three violations. From what I had heard, residents were extremely concerned with the violations and also had other complaints about the landfill. Seems like your typical story right? Right. But what I came across was an issue of deciding how to cover this story fairly. Did the landfill deserve to ripped on by neighbors and get a chance to speak out against them? Should I only focus the story on the violations or even see what they were doing to fix them? With only a minute to tell the story, I needed to tightly focus it on something I felt was the most important.

How I decided what to focus my story on:

I started out by doing what all journalists should do. I investigated the matter by going door to door to all the neighbor’s homes. The homes were pretty spread out and there weren’t too many near the landfill, so right away I knew it might not be as big of a deal as some made it out to be. After knocking on doors, I found some residents had no complaints at all and some were upset over various things. One neighbor declined to go on camera and the other neighbor who was upset wasn’t home to talk.

After talking with neighbors I visited the landfill, toured it, and investigated whether nearby neighbors were actually in danger. Although the neighbor’s complaints were legitimate, blowing trash and odor smells, it didn’t put them in any sort of danger. I found the landfill was being close in May of next year, so once that time comes, all the complaints they have now will essentially disappear.

In the end, I decided to focus my story on the violations and what the landfill is doing to curb their problems.

As I realize, every story needs to include how it affects people. I definitely believe we need to address resident’s concerns, but is it too much to write an entire story around it if only a few people are affected? In my web story, I included the resident’s concerns, but felt it would be too much to revolve the entire broadcast story around a few complaints. I decided telling our viewers what the violations were, and what the landfill was doing to help get rid of those violations would give them much more information than just a story about how a few residents are mad. It’s also a much more of an updated story this way.

Sometimes I feel stories blow a situation out of proportion, giving viewers the wrong impression of the problem. Our job is to inform the viewers, not to create an illegitimate fear. I didn’t need viewers thinking this landfill is purely evil, when in fact they received violations that almost all landfills face at one time or another. But with the accurate facts I gave the audience, I leave it up to them to decide, without trying to obscure the true situation of the story.

If you’re interested, take a look at my story below. You can also read the extended web story here by clicking here.

In the next blog entry I’ll be examining how blowing national stories out of proportion can create a culture of fear. Stay tuned!

Copyright © Tara Grimes
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